A mother has spoken out about the way her autistic son was treated while attempting to board a Ryanair flight from Alicante to the UK.
15-year-old Leo, from Doncaster, had been trying to board the plane along with his carer when a row broke out over his comfort doll. The teenager, who has severe autism, is also said to have the mental capacity of a three-year-old.
Mum Helen Estella claims airport workers tried to charge Leo a £25 carry-on fee for his comfort doll as it was classed as hand luggage.
Leo became ‘distressed’ when staff wouldn’t let him have the doll, and police officers were called to the scene. Helen claims four or five police officers surrounded her son, and ‘physically touched him without his awareness’.
Ryanair workers then off loaded Leo and his carer’s luggage and offered them no alternative way to fly home. Worst of all, they apparently informed them – with shrugged shoulders – that there would be no flights until the following Tuesday.
Taking to Facebook after Leo was safely home, Helen spoke out about Leo’s traumatic experience:
This is my son Leo he is 15 he has severe autism and the mental capacity of a 3 year old.. who tonight Ryanair refused to let fly home because he was distressed when they wouldnt let him have his doll and demanded payment for it as hand luggage ..
Police were called and 4/5 of them surrounded him at Alicante airport .. they physically touched him without his awareness and his doll which caused his meltdown.
If they had any autism awareness they would have know this would always escalate to a meltdown. Special assistance had been requested as not all disabilities are visible but we were told no by Ryanair because Leo can walk. He had to be then taken to the airport Doctor and medicated as he was so distressed.
Thank you so much @jet2tweets you should be incredibly proud of your staff, unlike @Ryanair they need to train their workers on autism!! Cant wait to have my little cousin home please share guys this is disgraceful behaviour and should never happen! pic.twitter.com/MHerxkhdJv
— Georgia-Mae Spencer (@mae_spencer) April 27, 2019
Desperate, Leo’s carer headed over to the Jet2 desk to plead for help. Fortunately, the staff there showed far more kindness towards them.
Anna and Mark were outstanding ground Jet2 staff .. they stayed with Leo from when they bought new tickets at the desk and have been sat on the floor with him as he was so frightened to board the plane trying to calm and reassure him. He was in a wheelchair at this point due to them medicating him.
The other lady in the photos is Ellie and she is Jet2 cabin crew .. sat on the floor calming him and she is putting his babies to bed for him and talking to him, which will keep him calm .. she was amazing ..
This plastic doll item she has on her knee is what RYANAIR wanted to charge for and take off him, his carer had NOT even refused the payment!
At the time of boarding he didn’t even have all these dolls they were bought after the event to help calm him before trying to get him on the Jet2 flight. What is even more unbelievable the carer was wearing the recognised Lanyard which is used to alert airport staff to a non visible disability!!
Helen proceeded to offer her thanks to Jet2 staff for treating her son with ‘kindness, dignity and respect’, stating:
Jet 2 I cannot thankyou enough for getting my disabled vulnerable boy home .. and treating him with kindness .. dignity and respect, and most of all time .. autistic children need extra processing time .. not Spanish Police threatening him with injections! The ignorant actions of Ryanair and ground staff escalated this situation.
Even the Jet2 Captain came to check on Leo’s wellbeing .. and a special thankyou to the kind gentleman who was travelling with his daughters who offered much appreciated assistance.
Please accept my thanks from the bottom of my heart. I will not be patronising this airline again .. in my opinion they are driven by utter greed and in this instance void of humanity, and I intend to follow up this incident.
Please please everyone share this for me, I would be so grateful and really want to show the level of compassion and outstanding customer service Jet2 have shown.
@Ryanair your treatment of that Autistic boy has made me feel physically sick. I will never again in my life fly with you. You should be ashamed. Well done @jet2tweets for saving the day, you have my lifelong custom as a mother of an Autistic child myself. #Autism
— Fiona Gilbert (@Fionamumx) April 28, 2019
UPDATE: Ryanair have since provided the following statement regarding the incident:
This teenage passenger and his carer were provided with special assistance by Alicante airport after checking in. (All such assistance in Alicante is provided by the Airport Authority).
At passport control, the teenager became agitated and aggressive towards his carer and the carer took the decision not to travel. The passengers were then taken to the airport medical assistance team where the upset passenger received sedation.
As these two passengers never arrived at the Ryanair Boarding gate, their luggage was offloaded at the request of Alicante passport control staff, who advised Ryanair’s gate agents that they had decided not to travel.
These two passengers did not arrive at the boarding gate, and therefore, they were not “denied boarding” and neither were they charged for any hand luggage.
This story just shows how important it is to recognise invisible disabilities, and illustrates the difference that compassion can make.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.